On November 3, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued two opinion letters interpreting the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding the compensability of training and travel time. Although these opinions interpret federal law, California law tends to follow federal law for compensating training and travel time.
In the first opinion letter, the DOL explored when voluntary, employee-initiated training may be compensable work time by examining six different training time scenarios in which the employee didn’t perform any productive work during the training. Depending on the situation, the training time was job related, satisfied state mandated licensure requirements or was performed during work hours.
The DOL drew a distinction between the scenarios that centered around when the employee took the training, opining that when an employee takes the training during work hours — regardless of whether the training was job related — the time is compensable as work hours. These hours would be compensable even if the employee had the option to take the training outside of work hours. Employers, the DOL noted, can create policies that prohibit taking voluntary training during work hours to help mitigate this issue.
Lastly, the DOL noted that if an employee travels to a voluntary training that occurs outside of working hours, that travel time is not compensable, even if the travel occurred during work hours, because the employee is doing so at their own option and convenience for a voluntary training that takes place outside of work hours.
In the second opinion letter, the DOL examined, amongst other things, whether an employee is entitled to travel time pay when the employee travels to remote job sites in their own vehicle.
The DOL examined two different remote travel scenarios. In the first scenario, an employee had the option to drive to the headquarters and ride in the company vehicle to the remote job site or use their own personal vehicle. In this case, the employer has the option to count as compensable worktime either:
- The actual amount of compensable time the laborer accrues driving to the remote job site; or
- The amount time that would have accrued during travel in the truck.
In the second scenario, the employer offered to put the employees in a hotel for the nights between work at a remote job site. Employees had the option to either stay in the hotel or choose to drive back home from the remote site each night during the project. The DOL opined that these intervening trips home and back during the project were not compensable because employers had relieved the employees of all duty and had no control over the employee whether they chose to use the hotel or instead commute each day from the remote work site.